Alice was surprised when her consulting attorney gave her a blank New Jersey Family Law Case Information Statement (CIS) and recommended that she fill it out before her first mediation session. “Ask your husband to complete it also,” the attorney added. “It will really help you organize your financial issues right off the bat.”
Alice took the form home and looked it over and now she is feeling a bit overwhelmed. It’s so official looking and so detailed. Alice and her husband Blake chose mediation partly so that they didn’t have to deal with all the red tape of court. Do they really need to bother with this form?
Is the CIS Necessary in Divorce Mediation?
Alice and Blake are not legally required to complete CIS forms for divorce mediation, but exchanging rough drafts is usually a good idea. They will then have a chance to explain the information in person and ask each other any necessary questions at their mediation sessions.
It’s true that completing the form can be a lot of work. Each party must list all the information that might be important in their divorce case by category, as follows:
- A: Information about the Parties
- B: Miscellaneous Information
- C: Income
- D: Expenses
- E: Assets & Liabilities
- F: Special Problems
- G: Required Attachments
For those who find the official form too daunting, there are other ways to collect and report the necessary information. Our checklist of financial and personal paperwork provides a good overview of what you will need. There are some benefits to exchanging the CIS itself, however.
Benefits of Using the CIS in Mediation
Completing the CIS can prompt you to remember or become aware of things you might otherwise forget or ignore. For example, unless you keep meticulous monthly budgets, there is a good chance you will be surprised at how much you are spending on certain items. If your spouse has been responsible for paying the family bills or tracking the family income, you may not really understand what it costs to run your household. Obtaining detailed information on all these fronts is critical. Asking your spouse to complete the CIS can get you started. The CIS also requires you to record the date you acquired each item of property that either of you own, which can help you determine whether that property is marital or separate.
Using the CIS form also makes it relatively easy to spot mistakes. If there is a mismatch between income and expenses, for example, you can review each category for omissions or double counting. When both parties use the same form, it is also easier to compare entries and sort out the differences between them. Sometimes differences will be errors and sometimes they will be real disagreements.
The more complex your financial situation, the more helpful it can be to use the official form. In complex cases, it’s also important to start collecting information early. Unless you have very few assets and debts, it is a good idea to complete a draft of the CIS and then meet with your consulting attorney to review it before your first mediation session. The attorney will ensure that you have not skipped important items or categories. An attorney can also help you prepare a list of questions for your spouse and a list of documents that you will need to ask your spouse to produce at mediation.
Collecting Financial Information and Paperwork
Whether you decide to use the official form or to simply provide each other with a list of your income, expenses, assets and liabilities, thoroughness is important. You will need to collect and review all the financial documents necessary to settle your case. This includes bank and credit card statements, W-2’s, 1099’s, and tax returns, for at least the past year. If either of you has variable income, you will need records going back at least three years and possibly longer. You may also need things like insurance documents and any previous legal agreements or court orders affecting either of you. You will then each need to list the following:
- Taxable or nontaxable income identified by source, including any loan proceeds.
- Monthly expenses broken down by category (multiply or divide those paid weekly, annually, or on some other schedule).
- All assets identified as marital, separate or partly marital and partly separate, with an estimate of each asset’s monetary value.
- All debts and other liabilities, again identified as marital, separate or partly marital and partly separate.
Those with special circumstances can enter this information in Part F of the CIS form. This includes things like children with special needs or circumstances preventing full time work. If you are not using this form, don’t neglect to present this type of information in detail.
If you have questions about preparing a CIS form or collecting financial information for divorce mediation, contact us today for a fee consultation.